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Schools Chief Warns of Grim Fallout

Community invited to open meeting March 29 to discuss post-election consequences if tax initiative fails.

William Huyett is the superintendent of Berkeley Unifiied School District. His open letter to the community deals with cuts that threaten public schools in the city and throughout the state.

For yet another year I am writing to you about significant cuts to Berkeley Unified and all California public schools.  The Governor’s proposed reductions for the next school year, coupled with the loss of $1.7 million in federal stimulus funds and our increasing costs, leave us with a structural deficit of $3.0 million. This figure may increase depending on factors like enrollment and certain reimbursements, which are yet to be finalized.

The district is holding a budget forum at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 29 in the Council Chambers at the school district headquarters, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland and I will be presenting and answering questions. The forum will be broadcast live on cable 33 and posted with a link from our website for viewing after the event.

In February, I asked staff to make a preliminary list of budget reductions. This list is currently being reviewed by the Superintendent's Budget Advisory Committee, which is deliberating on its own set of recommendations. The committee is comprised of an equal number of employees (including all four unions) and community members. I will review all the suggestions before making my own recommendation to the School Board. The School Board will make all final decisions and must pass a balanced budget by the end of June.

The staff proposed the following reductions to cover the projected $3 million deficit:

  • Set fees for Adult School classes so they are self-sustaining: $315,000;
  • Eliminate extra staff above the BSEP Measure requirements in middle and high school; the district would meet the BSEP mandated class size averages of 28 for secondary classrooms, without going appreciably below 28 as happened in past years: $542,00;
  • Fund part of the cost of academic intervention teachers at middle schools in BSEP (while maintaining programs currently funded): $475,00;
  • Reduce Worker’s Comp payments, reduce Summer School, reduce discretionary funding in the high school and overtime budgets, and sweep $300,000 additional state funding previously allocated for Adult School: total $918,000;
  • Draw on reserves for approximately $750,000 — more if reductions grow beyond the projected $3 million.

The Governor and various groups are seeking signatures for an initiative on the November 2012 ballot to fund education and other state programs through income tax and sales tax increases.

If that initiative fails, there will be severe cuts to education after the election -- about $4 million for Berkeley Unified. For budget planning purposes, staff is assuming that if the initiative fails, reserve funds would cover the 2012-13 school year mid-year cuts, and significant reductions would be felt in the 2013-14 school year budget.

Each of the five years I have been Berkeley’s Superintendent, the state has required budget reductions. These reductions are demoralizing for our hard-working teachers and staff, especially those who are receiving notices of possible layoff. Teachers and other staff feel the effect of increasing health care premiums as the district has not been able to increase health care contributions for several years.

The community’s support of teachers, staff, and administrators is vital, so I want to continue to keep you informed about these budget reductions. You can sign up for email updates at the district website, www.berkeley.net or attend the budget forum on March 29.

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